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Every Language: Listening To The Multilingual GodSample

Every Language: Listening To The Multilingual God

DAY 5 OF 7

What's Your Big Fish? 

Bible translation consultant Steve Berneking tells a fascinating story about his work with the translation team working on the book of Jonah in Inupiaq, a language spoken by the Iñupiat people of Alaska:

"In the whaling community of the Iñupiat in northern Alaska, the whale is all but revered and respected as one of God's creatures which bring life and sustenance. I was recently with our Inupiaq Bible Translation Team, working on the Book of Jonah. In popular culture, as we all know, the 'big fish' in this tale is often equated with what we know as the whale; Sunday school curriculum teaches it; art recreates it; collective memory recalls it. Therefore, they wanted an illustration of a white whale in their publication of the Book of Jonah.

"As a biblical scholar, I know this is erroneous and irresponsible. A biblical scholar assumes a 'big fish' is simply to be taken as a 'big fish.' The identity of this fish is not necessary to understand the tale: that God provided it is the point. As a Bible translator, hopefully a culturally sensitive one, however, I was quickly reminded in that moment that this Iñupiat community 'needed' that 'Jonah's big fish' to be nothing other than a whale.

"This made the tale of Jonah even more meaningful because they 'read' the source of God's deliverance of Jonah as the same source of God's provision of food and sustenance to them."

I love Steve's story. I love that this community found their way to truly own the story of Jonah—perhaps more than others from other language groups who didn't grow up in that culture. But though I don't speak Inupiaq, I have a similar story. I have multiple sclerosis, a disease that often makes my legs weak. My favorite verse in the Bible is Psalm 147:10: "His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man." This verse feels like it was written for me personally. This English translation comes from the English Standard Version, and other translations that follow the King James Version tradition tend to translate similarly. Different translations speak of a "warrior" or "runner" in the second part of the verse—a meaning suggested by the original Hebrew wording of "the legs (or: thighs) of a man." I have to admit, though, that such an athletic interpretation doesn't do much for me—it doesn't touch my spirit with the same meaning. Like the Iñupiat church with "their" translation, I have mine. 

What verse in the Bible touches your spirit in the most personal way? Look up that passage, meditate on it, and join me in praising God for speaking to us so personally. 


Day 4Day 6

About this Plan

Every Language: Listening To The Multilingual God

God’s communication with humanity was intended from the beginning for “every nation, tribe, and language.” While all languages are equally competent in expressing the message of the Bible, each language has unique capaci...


We would like to thank United Bible Societies - Global Mission Team for providing this Plan. For more information, please visit:

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